It was outright pouring, visibility was down to a few feet. Rakesh was having a hard time managing the misty windshield of his car. With one hand clutching a torn cloth he attempted to clear up the glass vigorously. He clutched the steering with his other hand, deftly managing the water filled potholes on E.M. Bypass. He cursed out aloud at the civic bodies doing a shoddy job at the road mending work, yet again. It was the same each monsoon and it was a major headache for Rakesh who normally plied his fares in and around the Kasba area. His battered Ambassador grunted and labored to maneuver the road. The rain lashed against his car. The archaic wipers emitted more noise than they managed to clear up the raindrops.
There were flashes of lightning with deafening thunders. The traffic was hardly moving. The cacophony of the honks was already turning his headache into a nightmare. Rakesh quickly checked his watch, his wife had called him earlier in the day and he needed to rush back home. As the traffic light turned green, he pushed his old car into first gear and cut off the car in the front with a quick swerve and raced ahead. The ensuing stretch of road was in better condition and he planned to make up for the lost time. While his mood lightened, Rakesh switched on the radio. He often wondered what was wrong with the songs nowadays. He preferred the old melodies even though he was barely 24. His friends had coined a moniker for him. While he hated being called “Daddu”, he took it in his stride and used to mockingly chide his friends for calling him so. The fond memories of his friends brought a smile to his tired face. Humming an old Kishore Kumar number, Rakesh decided to beat the signal. With the light beginning to flicker to yellow, Rakesh’s old ambassador throttled full speed ahead.
He could barely see a small kid standing by the side of the road, beside another car. Rakesh quickly calculated the probability of saving the kid by screeching his brakes to the maximum. With the current speed on the wet road, he was sure to topple over even if he was lucky enough to avoid hitting the other cars. From the corner of his left eye, he could make out the silhouette of a lady shouting and running towards the kid. Even before his mind could register the eventuality, he felt the sideways impact of his car and a loud thump. With a quick glance at the lady who was wailing hysterically by now, Rakesh steamed ahead. He was drenched in cold sweat and his heart was thumping vigorously in his chest. He wondered if the lady had been able to notice the number plate on the car. He checked his speedometer, he must have been driving at around 60Mph. He felt guilty and relieved both at the same time. He was sure the lady or the other pedestrians would not have been able to get a look at his face. Rakesh kept cursing at himself. He always prided on having the best driving record amongst his friends. Of all days, this had to happen today!
Suddenly he realized he was parking the car in the garage. With the adrenaline rush in his blood, Rakesh quickly got down from his car to inspect the damage. There were bloodstains on the side of the car and some organic tissues still clung on. Feeling queasy and resisting a strong urge to vomit, Rakesh quickly got down to work. He brought a bucket filled with water and painstakingly started cleaning the remains. The body of the car did not have much damage from the impact. Thanking his stars, Rakesh made a mental note to get the left headlight fixed in the early morning the next day. He would also have to request Shambhu at the garage for another set of number plates and forged documents. It did not hurt to be cautious reasoned Rakesh.
Feeling calmer, he took one sweeping look at his car before he locked the car. He checked his watch, it was ten to 11 pm. Swati must be still awake. He knocked on his chawl door. He could hear Swati moving across laboriously inside, while he smoked the remains of his bidi. According to the local Doctor, Swati was likely to go into labor pain anytime now. Rakesh adored his wife who was a simpleton and an endearing woman. She looked in considerable discomfort, Rakesh served himself dinner, while listening to admonishments from his wife. Swati asked him if everything was fine and Rakesh quickly realized he was still tightly wound from the mishap. He forced a smile and caressed her face with sweet nothings. Post dinner they quickly went to sleep.
After what seemed barely minutes, Rakesh woke to his wife screaming.It seemed that she was in labor pain. Rakesh checked his watch, it was 4 am. He quickly dialed the local doctor and described the symptoms to him. The Doctor advised immediate hospitalization. Knowing with certainty that they would not get an ambulance anytime soon in the downpour, Rakesh propped his wife into the backseat of his car and stuffed the wad of notes into his purse.
As they drove through the deserted E.M.Bypass, Rakesh could not help but admire the beauty of the breaking dawn. The early light feebly lifted the veil of the darkness and Rakesh’s spirits soared. He quickly sorted the names which they had discussed multiple times earlier in his mind and hoped that they would have a girl. He parked the taxi outside and the attendants wheeled in his wife into the hospital. He spoke with the Doctor who asked him to wait until the initial checkup was completed.
Having heard that there was likely some time for delivery, Rakesh had no option but to linger around. He went down to have a quick tea and smoke. Suddenly he remembered that he had to visit Shambhu’ sgarage to get his car fixed. Dismissing the cigarette with a flicker of his hand, he quickly drove off to the garage. Having briefed Shambhu, Rakesh felt somewhat lighter in his mind. Shambhu assured him that the car or Rakesh were unlikely to be traced and placated him saying accidents are sometimes beyond the control of the mere mortals and souls are at the mercy of the GOD almighty.
While Sambhu was at work, Rakesh could not help but wonder about the kid. The kid was a boy of around 7-8 years he reckoned. The lady must have been his mother. He felt a sudden pang of guilt and again admonished himself for his mistake. He wondered if the kid was somehow alive and the lady had got him to emergency department in the nearby private hospital. Maybe the kid was grievously injured but alive after all. He kept thinking about his car’s speed and angle of impact. Suddenly his mobile rang. Rakesh returned from his trance with a start. It was a Doctor calling from the Hospital, asking him to make haste and fill in the paperwork.
Rakesh retuned to the Hospital and completed the various paperwork and payments required. It was already 2 pm and he was feeling tired from the lack of sleep. Swati was in the Operation Theater and some senior Surgeon was in charge inside. Rakesh quickly grabbed a bite from the hospital canteen and rushed back to the waiting area.
He must have dozed off and awoke with a start to his name being called on the speaker. He ran outside and spoke to the nurse. The baby was brought to him and he was overjoyed to see the angel like boy. The mother was doing fine and was to be shifted to the ward. Rajesh murmured “Hi Ajay, welcome to our world” in his kid’s ears and waited to thank the Surgeon.
The Surgeon walked out of the O.T 15 minutes later and was still dressed in the usual garb covering her head and mouth. Rakesh suddenly shivered in the warm building. He had a strange unpleasant premonition. The Surgeon had stopped in her tracks too. As she stood stupefied and removed her surgeon’s cap, Rakesh could hear the shrill plea for help and agonized screams of a mother who had just lost her son! Multiple thoughts raced across Rakesh’s mind. Evidently the Doctor had recognized him and would report him to the police. Should he make a run for it or plea for forgiveness? As Rakesh stood frozen in his tracks, unable to make a move, slowly the Surgeon walked towards him. She had swollen eyes, evidently from grief rather than a late night. Her face was eerily calm and he could not detect any flickers of anger or accusations in her eyes.
“Congratulations, you are now a father” she said.
With clasped hands, Rakesh pleaded for forgiveness. His voice was hoarse and sounded incoherent over his uncontrolled sobs. The Surgeon placed a hand over his shoulders.
“He was 7 years old you know. I save so many patients a day but could not save my own child! I would like to report you to the police and see you perish in jail for manslaughter.”
Rakesh mumbled apologies and kept pleading.
The Surgeon said “But it would be selfish and devilish of me to punish your newborn for your misdeeds. While I can never forgive you, I will let you off. I will not report you to the police.”
She did not wait for an answer and walked off. Rakesh was still in a stupor. He thanked the GOD almighty for his kindness and swore to drive carefully from now on.
He bought medicines at the pharmacy and bade his wife farewell for the day. Swati looked tired but radiant and could hardly stop smiling. Having promised to visit her the next morning, Rakesh slumbered off into the parking lot. He called up Sambhu and decided to have some desi alcohol to purge himself of his guilt ridden soul.
The rains had stopped and it was a bright clear evening. Rakesh switched on the radio and drove his taxi slowly. The traffic was moving at a snail’s pace as always. He suddenly realized that he was approaching the same ill-fated traffic signal. While he waited for the light to turn green, his palms felt sweaty on the steering.
The persistent honks brought him out of his reverie. He put the car into the first gear and moved ahead. Suddenly a child’s voice hissed in his cars loud and clear “My name was Ajay too!”……..
Rakesh panicked and his car crashed onto the tree beside the road. Bleeding profusely, Rakesh could barely see. He felt cold and could not feel or move his body. He could hear distant cries and heavy footfalls towards the car. He felt calm and uttered one last apology before everything blanked out.
The bystanders to the incident could not recall any cause for the eerie car accident while speaking to the reporters. Some however proffered that they had seen a little boy moments before the car crashed.
“Trust these people to always cook up something fanciful” mused the reporter as he readied his microphone, before going on air.